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Home » Yitro

Yitro: The Freedom App

Submitted by on January 30, 2012 – 8:34 pmNo Comment | 1,775 views

The Freedom App
Writing an essay has never been more difficult. In the past you could seclud yourself in a corner with pen and paper and let your mind flow. Now we sit at computers connected to the internet. The strain of concentration wears the brain and we are tempted constantly to distraction. Just a quick check of my email or a peek at the news, anything to ease the strain. But with these constant distractions how can one get any writing done? Every time I tune out, it takes forever to tune back in.

In truth, I can hardly be described as a technology geek. It took me forever to get my ipod. My blackbury is not even two years old. I rarely text and have about eight bbm contacts. Still as I sit down to study, teach or write I can hardly resist checking my device when it buzzes. I know it’s the wrong time and still I have to grab that call. Oops, there goes my cell, give me a sec while I see who’s calling…

The other day I heard a radio interview with the creator of something called the Freedom App. It can be downloaded for ten bucks and it blocks access to the internet for up to eight hours at a time. I looked it up online and was amazed to see the list of famous writers that hail this product as G-d’s gift.

All this is rather worrisome to Katie Rophie, who wrote a piece for Slate Magazine. “I don’t in any way question why anyone would want Freedom” she writes. “The addictive, mindless thrill of the Internet is clear: Why work when you can go on email or check the weather?” the freedom app - innerstreamWhat is frightening is the lack of control implied by this program, the total insufficiency of will when it comes to the Internet.”

Katie agrees that freedom must sometimes be imposed. Her question is only whether we need help doing it or if we are capable of imposing it on ourselves, which brings me to Torah.

Purpose
Our sages taught that true freedom is achieved only through Torah. At first blush this sounds in-congruent. Freedom means to do as we please. Torah study requires rigorous concentration and structured commitment. Where is the freedom in burying one’s nose in a book allowing the beauty of the vast and beckoning world to pass us by? (1)

Former US President Richard Nixon once said that when people are forced to go against their intuitions about the things they feel they ought to do, life becomes almost unbearable because what grants meaning to life is purpose. Without purpose it is impossible to be happy. We can try to fill the void with leisure, travel, gourmet and golf but that is not a life. Life is purpose.

As I understand it he was talking about the alignment of end and means. Life goals structure and streamline our lives around our purpose. Every resource, property and opportunity is unified by a common theme. They are all tools to purpose.

But when we lack a unifying purpose life becomes fragmented; an aimless collection of experiences and things devoid of structure and meaning. This kind of life is tempting to those who don’t have it, but those who do, know how tedious it can be. The glamor quickly fades and we are left yearning for the structure of the simple life. We become jealous of those who are poor of means, but rich in purpose because purpose grants meaning to life.

True Freedom
Freedom means that the outer accoutrements of life are aligned with our inner desires. We all desire meaning and we want our life to fall in step with our general purpose. When our inner desires are not synchronized with our outer lifestyle, life loses its luster and we grow despondent. We might be free to travel and do as we please. We have the means to pursue every whim, but life can’t be lived on a whim for whims do not a life make.

Consider a person who opts for six months of isolation in a remote and lonely cabin. This self imposed seclusion prevents this person from as much as stepping outside, but such people are free, doing precisely what they want. Contrast that with a billionaire placed under house arrest on a twelve hundred acre estate. They have absolute freedom of mobility over an area larger than most people traverse in a month, but they are imprisoned. What they do is not in concert with what they want.

True freedom comes from synthesis between the deepest undercurrent of our desires and the things we do in life. What we desire is often dictated by how and where we were raised, but as Jews there is a clear national desire that flows from our essence of being, our soul.

Torah
Every Jew desires a connection with G-d. Our souls know that proximity to G-d is of greater value than anything that material life offers. On the deepest level every soul craves this connection because G-d represents the highest point of meaning within our reach. It strikes the deepest chord within our soul because in G-d we find purpose. In G-d we find our own origin. With G-d we gain full equilibrium.

But then our soul descends to this world where we are besieged by an endless train of distraction. Everything holds the prospect of fulfillment and shines with the luster of promise. Fun, power, prestige, and status are all held out as tantalizing promises to those who opt for the life of materialism. From this perspective, a life steeped in Torah seems boring and lackluster.

Yet, the true state of our soul never changes. In our innermost chambers we know that true fulfillment derives from purpose and true purpose lies in a connection with G-d. Sometimes this truth is buried and we are not even aware of it, but it never goes away and we cannot be happy so long as we ignore it.

This schism between our inner truth and outer existence saps our energy and moral strength. (2) We try desperately to reconcile what we know to be true with the life we have chosen. We struggle with it mightily but it cannot be reconciled so long as we insist on using our means as an end. What was intended by G-d as a means to serve Him, we use as an end in serving ourselves.

Freedom can be achieved by recognizing these distractions for what they are and returning to our true desires. Torah is our freedom app. It awakens within us the truth we have always known and inspires us to align our lives with the deepest yearnings of our souls. We don’t require a force to impose this from the outside for in contradistinction to the internet, when it comes to Torah our will is sufficient.

Footnote

  1. While this essay takes a different track in responding to this question it must be noted that the vastness of the world is in fact confining when compared to the unlimited vastness of Torah. One can sit in a bare room and cramped quarters, but immerse the mind in the endless wisdom of Talmud or Kabbalah, allowing the mind to soar. There is no limit to the freedom the mind can achieve when unleashed into the endless world of Torah. Through Torah one achieves a connection with the infinite wisdom of G-d whereas the material world, vast as it is, is still finite.
  2. In the early part of the last century Jewish immigrants from Europe adopted the slogan, “Be a Jew at home and a Gentile on the street.” This constant seesaw between the rhythms of home and the values learned on the street was terribly confusing; especially to the next generation. This generation was forced to make a choice. Some surrendered their Jewishness at home and embraced their secular side completely and others surrendered their non Jewishness on the street and embraced Torah completely. Those who continued on the middle path opted for a life of struggle. It was incredibly difficult for them to reconcile their inherent faith in G-d with the ideology they embraced at University. They struggled to synchronize the values learned at home with those taught at Woodstock. Of this generation there are few if any whose children continued on this conflicted path. It is a path that is too difficult to follow. The path of compromise holds out great promise, but it the end it always proves too difficult. It is difficult to make everyone happy all the time, but it’s worse when the opposing forces are within us. Then it is literally impossible to compromise our own way into happiness.
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